Speaker John A. Boehner held court in his office for nearly three hours Thursday, inviting groups of lawmakers in for discussions on how best to defund Planned Parenthood without shutting down the federal government.
As a long day was winding down, the speaker and his lieutenants worked on a multi-pronged plan to present to fellow Republicans when the Republican Conference gathers Friday morning for a closed-door meeting. Republican leadership aides were noncommittal about what sort of continuing resolution to keep the government open will come to the floor — disinclined, perhaps, to admit they will ultimately have to face the wrath of conservatives and vote on a "clean" stopgap spending bill.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., emerged from Boehner's office Thursday afternoon insisting Republicans would lose close to 50 votes on any bill that doesn't strip funding for the embattled women's health organization, meaning leaders would have to rely on Democrats to keep government open beyond Sept. 30, when current funding expires.
With the stakes high and time running low, leadership hopes to drive home a clear message Friday to members like Mulvaney: Passing a clean CR does not preclude the House from also passing bills to end taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood.
The most significant pitch to members will be "immediately activating the reconciliation process" in regard to defunding Planned Parenthood.
Reconciliation, a legislative tool Congress can only use once per budget cycle, offers GOP lawmakers a way to bypass Democrats in the Senate and force a defunding bill to President Barack Obama's desk.
Republicans have been thwarted by the filibuster in the Senate, but reconciliation bills only require a simple majority in that chamber to advance.
An aide with GOP leadership said Boehner and other leaders are committed to "making sure we advance the pro-life cause," "significantly ramping up our oversight and investigative activities" and "sending more pro-life measures to the Senate and urging [senators] to vote on them."
Accordingly, markups of a reconciliation bill in the House committees of jurisdiction would begin next week, senior Republican aides confirmed to CQ Roll Call.
Leadership also said there would be a vote on a separate bill next week that would allow states to exclude providers that perform abortions, such as Planned Parenthood, from Medicaid contracts.
Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., one of the House's most vocal opponents of abortion whose bill to defund Planned Parenthood for one year passed the House last week, left Boehner's office saying, "I'm for whatever gets a bill to the president's desk."
She said she's still undecided on how she would vote on a CR that didn't also include a defunding provision. Heritage Action for America re-circulated its statement against the reconciliation gambit from Sept. 16, saying the tactic is not enough.
And Mulvaney, speaking to reporters for a second time Thursday, also suggested the maneuver wouldn't help Boehner win over skeptics who think a must-pass bill is the only way to hold Obama's feet to the fire.
"I have no objection to reconciliation on its own," he said, "I object to it as a replacement for actually having the discussion on the CR."
Mulvaney spearheaded a letter earlier this month asking members to go on record pledging to vote against any CR that didn't include a rider targeting Planned Parenthood. The House Freedom Caucus, of which Mulvaney is a founding member, is also expected to hold strong in opposition.
"I don't think it changes our options," he stressed. "That's the problem for leadership."
Fellow Freedom Caucus member Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said earlier in the day he stood by his comments from the previous week about Boehner being on "thin ice" in how he proceeds with the continuing resolution and Planned Parenthood.
Even Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores, R-Texas, who campaigned for his post on a promise to work well with leadership to push conservative values, suggested Thursday evening he wasn't prepared to play ball with Boehner.
"Voting on the Senate's continuing resolution without amending it is not enough," said Flores in a statement, alluding to conventional wisdom that the Senate's clean CR would become the measure the House passes at the eleventh hour. "The Senate's CR reads like [Senate Minority Leader] Harry Reid's wish list, and the House must amend it to achieve our policy objectives."
Flores was seen Thursday going into the corridor that leads both to Boehner's office and to the office of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., who was holding member meetings as well.
In other words, it appears Boehner still hasn't found a path to satisfy his harshest critics of conservative hardliners and insulate himself from scrutiny, or even a rumored coup. It could all come down to the speaker's Friday morning sales pitch.
Matt Fuller, Ryan McCrimmon, Niels Lesniewski and Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.